Bruce Kirksey, director of farm and research at Agricenter, describes some of the research done on the massive farm.
Words like “tech”and “start-ups,” or “drones” and ”innovation” sound like they belong in Silicon Valley but in Memphis these days they’re at home out on the farm.
Agricultural innovation got a high profile last year when Indigo Ag announced they’d bring the company’s commercial headquarters (and about 700 jobs) to Downtown Memphis.
But crop innovation has been a mainstay here since Agricenter International was founded in 1979. Since then, field trials right off Walnut Grove have yielded high-producing seed varieties, herbicides, pesticides, planting techniques, and more.
But agricultural innovation here has kept pace as technology and the internet have spread to change almost everything we do.
Pushing much of that recent innovation here has been AgLaunch, a nonprofit organization that brings together growers, entrepreneurs, investment, and innovation. This week, AgLaunch brought more than 250 people to Agricenter to show off some of the brand new innovations fueling the future of farming.
Vince Ferrante kept talking about the water in the soil but he kept reaching for his back pocket for his phone. Ferrante is the vice president of sales for GroGuru, a California tech company affiliated with AgLaunch.
Vincent Ferrante, vice president of sales for GroGuru, shows off one of the company's sensor units.
Producers can bury GroGuru’s sensors in their fields and get a wealth of up-to-the-minute information about what’s going on there. Those sensors report soil moisture, temperature, and salt content to a hub, through a satellite, to the internet, and shoot the information right down to a farmer’s phone or computer. The data helps farmers more-efficiently irrigate their crops. The Internet of Things (IoT) has arrived on your dinner plate.
Nikki Wallace, a biology teacher at Crosstown High School, hoped some of tech’s coolness factor would appeal to the dozen or so students she brought to the Future of Ag Field Day.
”We were looking into how to integrate technology into agricultural problems,” Wallace said. “So, our focus on this today is studying agriculture and food and Memphis. What does agriculture look like today? What can it look like in the future so we can bring more economic prosperity to the city?”
A group of Crosstown High School students pose for a photo before a stand of sorghum at the Future of Ag Field Day at Agricenter.
Agriculture and food is already a $15.7 billion industry in Memphis and Shelby County, according to John Butler, president of Agricenter. He said the ag and food space is the largest industry in Shelby County and the state of Tennessee. But that industry is changing, he said, and “if you’re not looking forward, you’re going to be left behind.”
Memphis and the larger Delta region is “one of the best growing areas in the nation,” Butler said, for anything from sweet potatoes, rice, corn, cotton, wheat, to soybeans.
“What we think really distinguishes us from most parts of the country that are saying they’re in the tech field, is that we have the ability to scale you here,” Butler said. “We have the ability to do the research here, right outside your door. Then, you can have access to the end customer. It makes that transition or that scale to progress for new companies very easy.”
The Future of Ag Field Day also featured demonstrations of drones spraying crops, new crop research on organics, information on ag tech start ups, and a look into the budding field of locally grown hemp crops for CBD.
(Look for more information on locally grown CBD at Agricenter soon in our CannaBeat column.)